After reading my post, “Handouts Do Not Equal Social Justice,” my friend Billy shared on Facebook that he dislikes my blog because I am often critical toward the church. This post is dedicated to Billy.
I could not sleep on Wednesday night and was up facebooking with Billy about why I am critical of the church. The main reason is that I see so much suffering and in the midst of it all the church seems so apathetic. I was having a little pity party via Facebook because no one responded to my post about my friend Al, which may or may not have been a bright idea. However, as I have shared in the past, I believe lament is a perfectly acceptable form of communication with God.
If I were a psalmist, my lament would have sounded something like this “Lord, why have you abandoned me? My brother is Christ is attacking me! People are starving all around me. Your body lies asleep in its crystal palace while your children cry out in the desert. Lord, where are you in my time of need?” Some may see the sharing of frustration with God as a lack of faith but others of you will find my willingness to be honest about the hard places of faith as refreshing. If you are the former, please refrain from preaching to me about waiting on God. You needn’t worry about me. The Holy Spirit has a way of slapping me upside the head without any commentary from human observers.
That slap upside the head came when I arrived in Hillside Court on Thursday afternoon through a guy named John. John is the guy in the photo. I met John last month when we helped to furnish his home. The day I met him, he brought us all to tears with his heartfelt gratitude. There was a huge grin across John’s face as he worked with our other team members to assemble nearly 20 bags of fresh produce. I had forgotten that when I was at Salisbury Presbyterian church last weekend, I had shared with Tammy, who is on staff at Salisbury, that my friends in Hillside needed food. On Tuesday, Tammy and her team from Salisbury harvested food at Shalom Farms, a non-profit that operates a wonderful community garden. Dominic, the Executive Director of Shalom Farms agreed to donate all the sweet potatoes, okra, bell peppers, and collard greens that Salisbury harvested to Embrace Richmond at Salisbury’s request. So when I walked into Hillside, our community members had sorted the vegetables and were breaking into teams to deliver the bags. Each team member took two bags. One bag was for a resident that we knew was in need, and Al was at the top of the list. Then everyone was given a “blessing” bag and instructed to simply give it to whomever God put in their path.
Something about John’s smile and energy drew me to him. This was a man who a few months ago did not have a bed to sleep on and here he was blessing others. He was bubbling over with excitement. He said to me, “I love helping other people, especially the old folks.” As he exited the apartment of one of the elderly residents there was a spark in his eyes. I could see Jesus spirit moving through him. It was at that moment that God opened my eyes. My heaviness over this past week has been around my friend Al, whom I shared has stage four lung cancer. I was fearful that Al would be all alone in his suffering. I had been asking, “Lord, who will be Jesus to Al?” And there was Jesus staring me in the face, through the eyes of big John. I expected Jesus to come in the form of a middle class Christian, who could drive Al to appointments, help provide food, and be a companion to Al on this difficult journey. But, Jesus showed up in the form of a materially poor but spiritually rich man named John.
John has the time, heart, and desire to be Jesus to my friend Al. My fear of Al being forgotten and lonely, vanished as I watched our amazing Hillside team scurry through the neighborhood looking for someone to bless. It was a beautiful site!
However, John and the rest of our Hillside team lack the material resources to address Al’s on-going need for food and transportation. Enter, Lisa. Lisa read my pity party remarks on Facebook. She was moved by my lament and has offered to meet Al’s need for food during his time in treatment. God used Lisa not only to ministry to Al, but also to speak into my life in my time of discouragement. Like me, Lisa has a very demanding job in full-time ministry. She took time out of her day to encourage me and it was exactly what I needed. My fear of Al starving to death also vanished.
We had one more need. Neither, John nor Al drive and it cost $3 round trip on the bus to go from Hillside court to MCV Medical Center where Al will receive his cancer treatments. Enter the Embrace board members; Becky, Rita, and Sarah. I happened to have a board meeting on Thursday, mentioned Al’s transportation challenge and they donated $80 toward transportation for Al, which should cover eight weeks of treatment.
I am no longer lamenting the apparent absence of Christ body in my friend Al’s life. The body showed up! Not the way I expected; but, perhaps in an even better way. John will have the pleasure of ministering to Al. Lisa ministered to me. And you all have the pleasure of seeing how every part of the body can and should work together. I admit I have a tendency to focus on what is not working with the church and on those Christians who are more concerned about their own comfort than about caring for people like Al. Thanks Billy for reminding me to also look for what is good.
So thanks, John, The Hillside Community Team, Tammy, Salisbury Presbyterian Church harvesters, Dominic, Shalom Farms, Becky, Rita, Sarah, and all of you who prayed for Al. You are a beautiful body and I am blessed to see you at work in the world. I pray my words never diminish the marvelous spirit that may sometimes seem to be lying dormant in our community.
I learned a valuable lesson this week. Still not sure exactly what that lesson is but I am sure I learned something from all this. Perhaps you can help me. What lesson did you learn from this tale? Where did you see the body of Christ at work in your world?
I want to thank all of you who commented on my last few posts both here on the blog and on Facebook. If you don’t mind, could you leave your comments here so that others who read the blog from other entry points can see the comments of all? While I love Facebook, some use Twitter or other connecting places to follow this blog and I don’t want them to be in the dark and miss out on the great comments you guys are sharing.